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Help:Making realistic railways/4

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Welcome to the final part of the railway tutorial. Previously covered topics include railway history, landscape, and stations. This chapter is about trains themselves—or to be precise, their operation and taking care of them. It's going to be quick, so let's get down to business.

Here's an aerial view of a roundhouse in Poland
Another aerial view of a depot, this time in Hamburg, Germany
A power substation in Wiesental, Germany. Tracks can be seen on the left.

Where trains go to sleep

Now that you have your tracks and stations ready, you're also going to need some trains to carry the passengers and cargo. And these trains can't just roam the rails 24/7. They need a home too, where they're cleaned and their technical condition is checked. While you don't really need to worry about cars, which are often just left idle on a side track, for engines you're going to want to build a railway depot.

Depots take two basic forms. The first one is similar to a station. There is a junction, several tracks under a shed and then sometimes another junction in the opposite direction, where all these tracks join once again. This is the prevalent type nowadays, as it's the most convenient logistics-wise. It can vary in size, the longest depots of this kind can be over 150 meters long, comfortably fitting in an entire multiple unit train.

During the steam era, depots would usually take shape of a roundhouse. That's a circular building surrounding a rotatable track called a turntable. There are some tracks from a station to the turntable, and then typically about 20 tracks from the turntable inside the roundhouse or just simple dead-end side tracks. The biggest advantage of this kind of depot is that it doesn't take up a lot of space. Roundhouses were usually built for steam locomotives, many of them are disused nowadays because the previous type is much more convenient, modern engines can run in both directions without need for turning around and in some places there isn't as much need for train transport as there used to be.

Draw the outline of the turntable as a circle tagged railway=turntable. It should be wide enough, the typical diameter is about 20 - 25 meters. There should be another 25 meters of tracks in front of the roundhouse entrance and additional 40 meters for the slot inside the building.

Depots vary in size. Large stations will have spacious buildings with many tracks and village stations will just have a tiny shed at the end of a weeded side track. Near the depots there are usually some spare tracks used for setting up the train consists, looking similar to the classification yards described previously, just without a hump.


A nice finishing touch is to add some power infrastructure to your railways.

Steam trains. For decades, these giants made of steel dashed the world's railroads. They were also not very efficient, used a lot of fuel (usually coal), oil and grease and required hard manual labor to operate. You won't really find them in regular service in any first world country anymore, but some of the remnants can still be found, like water pumps, or coal towers from which coal was poured into the locomotive tenders.

Even with diesel engines, you can get creative. Many stations will have an oil tank.


Electric trains are great. They're arguably the most eco-friendly option, they aren't as loud as the others, they don't pollute, but electrified tracks require some additional infrastructure.

They have to be connected to the power grid, which happens at power substations (area - power=substation.) Electricity is transformed from high voltage to whatever voltage the railway uses there. How extensive the power network is in a country varies, and this topic arguably deserves a separate tutorial of its own. These substations are located near the tracks and connected directly to the high voltage lines connecting large towns.

There isn't much to actually draw except of the substation area itself, unless you want to go into really small detail and draw the individual wires and transformers and stuff, it's more like a thing to keep in mind while planning the power grid.

What you however can set is the tags electrified=*, voltage=* and frequency=* to your tracks. It doesn't change anything about their appearance, but it's a cool piece of information. With the tag electrified you'd usually want to go for contact_line, because most tracks do use overhead wires as power supply. The values for voltage and frequency will vary, because each country has their own. 25000 V and 50 Hz alternating current (AC) seems to be the modern standard, but you can always check the Wikipedia page about railway electrification.

Weekly exercise

At this point you probably have most of the stuff figured out, so it's probably time to focus on detail.

  • Draw something tiny. Bridges, stations - these are impressive, sure, but even the little things can tell you so much about a place sometimes. Draw a water tower, or a small engine shed. It's the thought that counts.